The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities


American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609
United States

Richard Bushman’s The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (1992) examines the historical origins, the geographic spread, and the cultural consequences of the rise of “gentility” in early America—a complex of ideas and behaviors that encompassed how to talk, worship, and dress, how to paint your house and furnish your parlor. Combining cultural and social history with the sensitive study of material culture, The Refinement of America offers a comprehensive account of how manners and consumption were used to mark (or obscure) class boundaries from the colonial period to the mid-nineteenth century, and how these shifts interacted with the political and social transformations in early American society. In this lecture, Richard Bushman will reflect on the impact of this work that he said, “began in a museum and expanded to encompass the entire western world for three centuries and seemed to explain everything, including the author’s relationship with his mother.”


Richard Lyman Bushman is the Gouverneur Morris Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University and the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Bushman's scholarship includes studies of early American social, cultural, and political history, American religious history, and the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he is a member. His publications include: From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765, which won the Bancroft Prize in 1967; King and People in Provincial Massachusetts; and Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.